Liposuction has become a relatively common procedure, and more often than not, it is considered safe. But a 45-year-old woman in England nearly died from a complication related to the surgery, called fat embolism syndrome. The scariest part is that doctors have difficulty identifying this issue when it arises post-liposuction.
According to LiveScience, “Fat embolism syndrome refers to a condition in which a globule of fat gets into a person’s bloodstream and blocks off blood vessels, thus preventing blood flow.” The article went on to say, “The condition is “notoriously difficult” to diagnose, and symptoms usually don’t begin until 24 to 72 hours after the initial event. If left untreated, it can lead to inflammation throughout the body and organ failure.”
While fat embolism syndrome is common after traumatic events, like bone fractures and car accidents, it rarely occurs after liposuction surgery. As a result, doctors don’t necessarily know to look for it. They have to rule out several other problems before arriving at the correct diagnosis.
The woman at the center of the report published in the journal BMJ Case Reports had surgery to remove excess fat from around her knees and lower legs so that she could walk more easily. The surgery was uneventful, but 40 hours later her heart began to race and her breathing slowed. As she became increasingly drowsy and was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, doctors scrambled to identify the problem. There are factors that increase the likelihood that fat embolism syndrome will develop. According to the report, “In the woman’s case, a high body mass index, swelling in the legs and the removal of a large amount of fat were all risk factors.”
The patient was placed on a ventilator for eight of the 12 days that she spent in the Intensive Care Unit. Two months later, she was reportedly doing well.